Justice as a Sign of the Law: Damhoudere'’s Portrait of Worldly Justice

Michael Widener

A rare and intriguing portrayal of a two-faced Justice, titled “A Portrait of Worldly Justice,” comes from a popular sixteenth-century guide to civil procedure by the Flemish jurist Joost de Damhoudere. One face is sighted and the other has blindfolded eyes. The face of the sighted Justice looks toward her large sword, held upright in her right hand, while the face of the blindfolded Justice turns toward tipped scales in her left hand.

The sighted face has the well-to-do on its side, while the blindfolded face is turned toward the side with more needy-looking individuals, children included. Those on the sighted side of Justice personify largely negative qualities, such as the two labeled Argentum (Money) and Favor (Favor). Blindfolded Justice faces figures labeled Despectus (Contempt), Miseria (Misery), and Paupertas (Poverty). The legend below suggests the children (one of whom is disabled) are Innocentia (Innocence) and Veritas (Truth).

This imagery is accompanied by more than a dozen explanatory pages, beginning with a quote from Cicero: “Justice is the virtue, by which is granted to each what is his own.” Through this mélange of images and text, Damhoudere detailed his views on both divine and human justice. He explained that many turn to Justice, who is “repeatedly blind and deaf” to just causes.” Justice is “two-faced” – acting in a manner that appears even-handed but dissembling. Where she is “bound by a blindfold,” her eyes are shut to “clemency.” But the text has some ambiguity, for Damhoudere also commented that a “two-faced” Justice signified that she must “attend to each of the parties equally.”

Damhoudere, Joost de. Practique iudiciaire et causes civiles (Antwerp: Iean Bellere, 1572). Lillian Goldman Law Library.

Damhoudere, Joost de. Practycke in civile sacken (Rotterdam: Pieter van Waesberghe, 1660). Lillian Goldman Law Library.

“The Remarkable Run of a Political Icon: Justice as a Sign of the Law” is curated by Judith Resnik, Dennis Curtis, Allison Tait, and Mike Widener, and is on display Sept. 19-Dec. 16, 2011, in the Rare Book Exhibition Gallery, Level L2, Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School.

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